Water cleanup under way in North Fort Myers
August 8, 2018


North Fort Myers may not have the 400 miles of canals Cape Coral has, but that doesn't mean the community hasn't been hit hard by the blue-green algae bloom that has affected much of Lee County.

North Fort Myers has canals and about 17 miles of shoreline along the river, and residents have seen - and smelled - the same problems experienced elsewhere.

Lee County, which has received $700,000 from the state as part of a Department of Environmental Protection's Florida Harmful Algal Bloom Management Grant Program, began cleanup on Friday.

The process involves the use of hoses to suck the algae out of the canals. It's a pilot program that has never been tried on this kind of algae before, officials said.

Michelle Ayers, who lives in the Burkdale area near the end of Orange Grove, said she was not impressed, especially after what she says were mechanical malfunctions that seemed to stall cleanup just as it began in her area.

"They bring in these small hoses. It's like a garden hose that sucks the algae out and they'll do whatever with it. How many hoses do they have? If you watch, it's sucking little bits of algae," Ayers said. "It's going to take a month to get it out and by then it'll be gone."

Drive down Old 41 and, at times, you can see the green sheen on the water, and while people are still going to North Shore Park, most aren't going near the water.

Ayers said she and her father has been badly affected by the water situation.

"We can't go outside without smelling it. We've been trying to get work done outside and we can't even do that," Ayers said. "The minute you get past Burkdale, at the end of Orange Grove, it hits you. It is bad."

Ayers said she has seen ducks fly into the water and come out green and, while the problem seemed to dissipate for a few days, it came back with a vengeance.

Ayers, who works on Fort Myers Beach which is affected by a different type of algae, said she has seen business slow to a crawl.

"People come in every day and talk about the red tide and are just going home. We have lost a lot of business where I work," Ayers said. "I'm making half of what I used to make. I'll make $20 in a day. That's really bad."

Al Giacalone, a Realtor and president elect of the North Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce, has talked to fellow Realtors in the area and they say people just aren't buying right now.

"There are people who had homes in Sanibel under contract and the buyers walked away after seeing what's going on," Giacalone said. "It seems like it gets trapped in the canals. People just hearing about it and they aren't coming down."

Giacalone said the Chamber has not taken a position and that members have not spoken to him personally about it. He did say there is something everyone can do, and that is advocate.

"I'm going to be an advocate with the rest of the community. Our county commissioners seem to be on the ball on this. It has hired a company to start cleaning this up," Giacalone said.

Doug Dailey, president of the North Fort Myers Civic Association, said he is hearing a lot of concern in speaking with people in the waterway communities. He is trying to be the eyes and ears of the community and provide input to those who can help.

"We get information that we pass on to the county and the Army Corps of Engineers. We're trying to help them out there," Dailey said. "They need to get busy and get that reservoir started. Once they get that going, you will see a dramatic decrease in that."

Dailey believes part of the issue is that Hurricane Irma stirred everything up off the bottom of Lake Okeechobee, the source of water discharges into the Caloosahatchee, elevating a normal summer problem into a crisis.

This week is expected to be a busy one. Area mayors were expected to be at the Lee County Board of County Commissioners meeting Tuesday to request more help from the state by extending the state of emergency and providing aid to ailing businesses that rely on the water.


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